The Philosophy of Coffee by Brian Williams – Review

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By Paul Howard

For me, a day without real coffee is unthinkable. Instant coffee is only for dire emergencies because even bad coffee is better than none. I prefer Italian espresso to keep the jitters at bay. However, I enjoy finding new coffees, drinks and venues to try. Consequently, a new book called The Philosophy of Coffee is the perfect introductory book on the subject of coffee.

It’s a slim 80-page hardback, by Brian Williams. He blogs on coffee at Brian’s Coffee Spot and contributes to Caffeine Magazine. His book shares the blogs accessible, factual and engaging tone. In other words, it’s a quick and entertaining read that will appeal to any coffee lover.

The book aims to be a brief introduction to coffee, that doesn’t attempt to be exhaustive. It’s refreshingly short about philosophy too. While many philosophers have espoused its virtues, their students probably needed coffee to stay awake.

the philosophy of coffee brian williams book review cover“Rise of the coffeehouse”

Coffee is a relative newcomer to the drinks world in comparison with beer, wine, or even tea. However, the book charts its thousand year history and is full of fun facts.

For example, you’ll find out about its Islamic origins, the rise of the coffeehouse, and coffee prohibition. Fashion, economics, and colonial empires have all played a part. It shows why that as nations, Americans prefer coffee while the Brits still opt for tea. The story of how Brazil became the world’s number one coffee producer is also here.

Included too are black and white illustrations from the British Library. My favourite of these is a London petition from 1674, warning against “the excessive use of that drying, enfeebling liquor”. Perhaps that should refer to Instant!

“Delve deeper”

The book contains short sections. It discusses variations in flavours, roasting and techniques, including the birth of the espresso. Modern trends include the rise of the big coffee chains on every high street but also the need for sustainability. The suggested further reading makes a useful resource for those wanting to delve deeper.

Coffee is a now a global phenomenon worth billions, with seemingly endless cultural permutations and trends. However and wherever you prefer to drink coffee, there’s something in this book for you. It comes highly recommended.

Even better, why not pay a visit to the British Library in London, or at Boston Spa near Wetherby. You can buy a copy in their shops and read it with your coffee of choice while you’re there.

‘The Philosophy of Coffee’ by Brian Williams is published by The British Library, £9.99 hardback


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